There's Laksa and then there's Laksa. When you say Laksa most people think of the coconut based curry variety but the options are actually much wider than that. With Assam, Nyonya, Sarawak and Siam amongst others, the different varieties reflect the geographic and cultural diversity of Malaysia. Laksa Bar offers the chance to sample a couple of options not generally available in the city, along with traditional Malaysian favourites such as Nasi Lemak and Char Kway Teoh.
Style wise the cafe is done in a very basic style with bare concrete floor, plain white painted walls and simple dark wooden tables and chairs. This results in a space I found a bit noisy. Not so much so that you couldn't hear what your companions were saying but enough so that you occasionally needed to concentrate. Busy too although not completely full which surprised me a little as when passing by before it had always seemed particularly popular.
Given that it was called Laksa Bar at least one out of Bureaucrat and myself had to order Laksa, and as I was craving Nasi Lemak I was glad when she announced she was ordering the Assam Laksa. This is probably the second most common style of Laksa in Melbourne even if nowhere near as common as the curry/coconut variety. A specialty of Penang in northern Malaysia, it is fish and thick noodle based, sour but with some sweetness as well and does not include coconut milk. It's sometimes described as a bit of an acquired taste but the couple of times I've had it in Penang it has been really tasty.
The Laksa bar version is a bit different in style and taste to the versions I've had in Malaysia but very similar to other Melbourne versions. It's very generous in size and announced its presence well before it reached our table with a rich, warming slightly spicy fragrance. It's also brighter in colour, the broth sweeter and maybe a little thicker but definitely more generous with the fish than in Penang.
As with the laksa the nasai lemak kampong (village style nasi lemak) was very fragrant, this time with the smell of coconut coming from the rice. Served with ikan bilis (tiny, well fried fish), a sambal, peanuts, fried egg, some greens and of course rice, my choice was to go with the fried fish option. Given the strong smell of coconut from the rice it was nicely balanced when eaten, the ikan bilis and peanuts were crunchy and the fried egg nicely cooked. From my perspective the sambal could have had a bit more of a kick to it and been a little less sweet but it is something that varies between individual cooks and I have often had similar versions before. The fish was nicely cooked, lightly battered and moist. All up, generous in size (a bit of a theme here) and I thought nicely done.
Of the two dishes we tried I thought the nasi lemak was definitely the better but didn't have any major issue with the assam laksa either. It may not cut it on the streets of Georgetown but that's a long way away from rainy Melbourne and it was as good as any I've tried here. Seemingly aimed more at the office worker than the student crowd it's slightly more expensive than other CBD city eateries but the service is correspondingly better and it is a nice enough (if understated) place to eat.
Food - 7.5
Ambience - 6.5
Service - 7
Price - 7.5
108 Little Lonsdale Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel (03) 9663 1941